The majority of spouses going through a divorce in South Carolina wonder if they are entitled to any amount of alimony (otherwise known as “spousal support”). Generally, alimony is meant to allow the supported, lower income spouse to enjoy a comparable standard of living to what he or she enjoyed during the marriage. SC Code § 20-3-130(A) provides that a Family Court may award alimony “in such amounts and for such term as the court considers appropriate as from the circumstances of the parties and the nature of case.” This language grants a Family Court Judge a wide amount of discretion to decide what amount and what type of alimony is appropriate in a given case.
The statute does, however, provide 12 specific factors a Court should consider when awarding alimony including: the duration of the marriage, standard of living established during the marriage, the educational background and employment history of each party, the current and reasonably anticipated earnings, needs, and expenses of each spouse, and marital misconduct of both parties. The final factor the statute lists is “such other factors the court considers relevant,” which again points to the Court’s sweeping discretion in awarding alimony in South Carolina divorces.
In addition to determining the amount of alimony suitable for an individual case, SC Code § 20-3-130(B) enumerates four primary types of alimony that a family court may award to a spouse. It is important to understand the different types of alimony to determine what may be appropriate in your case.
Permanent, Periodic Alimony
Permanent, periodic alimony is the most commonly awarded type of alimony in South Carolina. As the name aptly suggests, this type of alimony is permanent and paid periodically (generally monthly or bi-monthly). Permanent alimony is paid until a supported spouse remarries, dies, or cohabitates with another person on a continuing, conjugal basis for a period of 90 days or more. However, it is important to note that permanent alimony may still be revisited and modified if one spouse shows a “substantial change in circumstances.” For example, if a supporting spouse gets injured and subsequently loses his job.
In the representative case of Ricigliano v. Ricigliano, the South Carolina Court of Appeals awarded permanent, rather than rehabilitative, alimony to the husband. In its decision, the Court opined that permanent alimony was “preferred” to other types of alimony. The Court pointed to several factors in supporting its award of permanent alimony, including: (1) the parties’ fifteen-year marriage, (2) the husband’s decline in standard of living since the parties separation, (3) the husband’s testimony that he had maxed out his credit cards in order to meet his expenses, (4) the wife’s marital misconduct in ending the marriage, and (5) the husband’s level of education (high school diploma).
Lump Sum Alimony
Lump sum alimony is a fixed sum that is to be paid by the supporting spouse in one installment or periodically over a period of time. Lump sum alimony is relatively uncommon in South Carolina and is typically only awarded for compelling reasons. For example, a family court may choose to award a spouse lump sum alimony if the court believes a payor may not follow regular alimony obligations. Lump sum alimony helps provide certainty to a supported spouse associated with a fixed obligation. When awarded, lump sum alimony is non-modifiable and terminates only if the supported spouse dies, not when the supported spouse remarries or begins cohabitating with another person on a continuing, conjugal basis.
Rehabilitative alimony is meant to support a dependent spouse for a limited period of time to allow the dependent spouse to obtain additional training or education to achieve his or her maximum income potential. This type of alimony allows a grace period for a spouse to become self-supporting after a divorce is finalized. Like permanent, periodic alimony, rehabilitative alimony is modifiable upon a supported spouse’s death, remarriage or cohabitation. Rehabilitative alimony may also be extended and modified if unforeseen events hinder a supported spouse’s good faith efforts to become self-supporting or if similar events negatively impact the ability of a supporting spouse to pay the ordered amount of alimony.
A court may only award rehabilitative alimony when a spouse presents evidence (and a court subsequently finds) that there is a likelihood a supported spouse can become self-supporting within a relatively brief time frame. It is often awarded if the marriage is relatively short or if a spouse is relatively young and has no disability that would hinder him or her from going through additional training or education to increase his or her income potential.
Reimbursement alimony is awarded when a judge finds a spouse is entitled to reimbursement for investments that spouse made in the supporting spouse’s education or business. This investment could be a monetary investment in the supporting spouse’s university tuition or initial funds to start a business. Alternatively, the investment could also include time and energy a spouse expended in caring for a household while the supporting spouse was in class or working overtime while developing his or her business. Similar to permanent, periodic alimony and rehabilitative alimony, reimbursement alimony terminates on remarriage or continued cohabitation of the supported spouse or the death of either spouse.
A typical example where reimbursement alimony may be appropriate is when spouses divorce before a supporting spouse achieves greater earnings through their education or business than initially anticipated when their spouse made their investment.
Contact Our Experienced South Carolina Family Law Attorneys
Navigating the complex South Carolina alimony laws can be overwhelming for any spouse going through an emotional divorce. Moreover, given the large amount of discretion a family court has in setting alimony, it is important to hire a lawyer who is familiar with local judges’ tendencies in awarding alimony. The dedicated divorce law attorneys in Greenville at Elliott Frazier Law Firm, LLC can help walk you through the different types of alimony and understand any rights you may have to receive alimony. Contact us today to discuss your Greenville, South Carolina divorce case with us.